Dr. Michael Anderson, a Georgian pediatrician, considers prescription medicine the next great equalizer. The New York Times reports on the practice of prescribing stimulants to under-performing, low-income students to help them get an edge in schools.
Anderson, "one of the more outspoken proponents" of this idea, admits to falsely diagnosing children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in order to prescribe medication—namely the drug Adderall—to treat the 'true' ailment: "poor academic performance in inadequate schools."
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
Adderall's intended use is to boost focus and impulse control in people suffering with ADHD. Reported side effects include growth suppression, increased blood pressure and—in rare cases—psychotic episodes; they are classified by the DEA as Schedule II Controlled Substances because they are particularly addictive.
The article points out that it is not uncommon among wealthy college and high school students to abuse stimulants in order to perform better in school. It appears that the trend may be spreading to low-income families whose young children are not performing well in schools that are often underfunded and over-crowded. Anderson believes that he is "evening the scales a bit" for children whose families can't afford behavior-based therapies "like tutoring and family counseling."
Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass., who works primarily with lower-income children and their schools, told the New York Times: “We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.”
The superintendent of a major California school district—who spoke to the NY Times on the condition of anonymity—noted that diagnosis rates of ADHD have risen as sharply as school funding has declined. ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007, amounting to 5.4 million children age 4-7 diagnosed as of 2007.